The MAIL INTERVIEW newsletter

(Original Newsletter as published in 2001 to document this long-time project)
Exploring MAIL ART and the new ways of communication:

The MAIL INTERVIEW project.

The Mail Interview project started in 1994. This is the newsletter that explains the History, the process, and to be short all important aspects of the project.

ISSUE: December 2001
TAM PUBLICATIONS Nr. 010391

This Mail-Interview project in fact is the investigation, to find out why others do MAIL ART, how they started and how the new communication-forms affect the way the mail artists work. This newsletter is updated several times a year, so the text is changed when something new happens with the project.

The Mail Interview project started in October 1994. I remember reading a copy of an interview published in the magazine ND, and was very interested in the story the mail artists were telling. Only a few hours later I decided to start some interviews myself. Not in the traditional way…

The interviews I wanted to do should go by mail, but since this isn’t the only way the mail artists communicate, I extended the idea and would allow all possible communication forms for the process. The fun would be that there are no rules for this. I send out the first question, and choose my communication-form, and the receiver can decide for himself/herself, which form to choose for the answer.
A nice example of how this can go is the interview with Peter Küstermann from Germany. He called me and gave a verbal first answer. I recorded the answer, transcribed it and sent the answer with the next question to him. He stated to me that he wanted to use as much as possible the different communication-forms, but as it is now he hasn’t replied to the last question for a long time.
The process of the interviews has changed over the years. At first I made one series of 12 people I wanted to interview. But as time passes by and sometimes the answers came only in after long times, there grew a series op interviews. At the moment the seventh series is underway and none of the series are completely finished yet today (1998).
After starting up the first interviews there soon came the moment when to decide what to do with the finished interviews. To keep track of all the words that come in and go out, I have typed all these questions and answers into my computer. Once the interview is ready it is only a simple task to print the final texts. But here I developed the principle to send the complete text to the interviewed artist, and to ask him/her to proofread. The first interview to get ready was Michael Leigh’s interview, and after receiving his reactions, I made a booklet out of the interview in a small edition and sent it to some of the other mail artists I was interviewing. That was the start of the booklets, with as a reaction that: more mail artists wanted to read the interviews and asked for the booklets.
The publishing of this first booklet reminded me of the fact that it was the beginning of a larger series, so the cost factor was involved. Not only the interviewed artists would be interested in the interviews, in fact the whole mail art network would like to read them. These factors lead to the situation in which it is now. A large series of interview booklets have been published and people are able to subscribe to the series. Because not everybody has the money to subscribe I looked for another way to make the texts available, and that lead to publishing the texts on the Internet (thanks to the help of Jas W. Felter in Canada)
After the first published booklet, things went very fast. Todays over 36 booklets have been published and more will come out in the future. The publishing of the booklets is a process on its own. The first were a bit primitive, but gradually I invested more time to do the layout and to make them look better. In 1997 I even started with the making of colour-versions for the interviewed artist, and also sometimes others take over the publishing of the booklet-version.
Vittore Baroni published his interview as a special edition of ARTE POSTALE! , and the interviews with Tim Mancusi & Guy Bleus will be published by The Sticker Dude (Joel) in New York , USA. As time passes by more experiments will be undertaken. To give you an idea, the upcoming interview with Jonathan Stangroom will contain in it a specially made copy-art work by Jonathan himself.

One of the communication-forms I was interested in is the electronic form. Since I work a lot with computers, I started to use the Internet as well end of 1994. This meant I could send and receive e-mail messages as well. How to arrange a Web-Site was then still unknown to me. Jas W. Felter from Canada was already experimenting in that field and I asked him for help. He then offered to publish the interviews in his Museum-Library, and after experimenting with the sending of complete interview-files, he transformed them into HTML-documents for me and put them online.
Changes in 1996. Thanks to Joy McManus (USA) I got the address of Geocities in Los Angeles, and Joy even arranged the site for me. This free space I started to fill since June 1996, and my learning of HTML-language started. I built up the site in steps, but only as a kind of medium between all the texts that I have produced. The interviews are still put online by Jas W. Felter, who I owe a great THANK YOU for all the work he has done for me. Thanks to this publishing online, the interview became accessible for everybody.

Unlike what most people might think, there are only very few subscribers to the mail interview booklets. At this moment only 8 subscribers and most of them are subscribers for a long time. Bruno Sourdin from France is the one who subscribed for a very long time. Sometimes I get those letters, mail artists asking for all the interviews, and they don’t realise what kinds of costs are involved.
The latest subscriber is the Library of the MoMa (Museum of Modern Art in New York). They already received the complete set of the interview-booklets (since I think it is important that the information is available in these kind of institutions as well). Their reaction was that they wanted to subscribe to the upcoming issues. Subscribing to the interviews means you get the booklet-versions, always the extended versions. Sometimes there are special things that belong to the interview, and when you order back-issues you are never sure if you’ll get it complete. I mostly make limited editions (like 70 or 50 copies) , and once they are gone, I only can send you the print-out of the text. The costs of subscribing is at the moment US$ 3,– inside Europe. Outside Europe it costs US$ 4,– This only covers the real costs since I don’t make any profit out of this project at all (in fact each interview probably costs me several hundreds of dollars!). If you want to order older issues, please ask for the form I made for this. Due to the limited edition I normally print I only have a limited amount of booklets available and sometimes certain issues are already sold out. This printing out of the text is something everybody could do since these texts are put online as well. Ask anybody you know who has access to the interviews, and he can find all at:
http://www.iuoma.org/
On this site you have access also the other things I have done, like the newsletter of the TAM Rubber Stamp archive, the ‘thoughts about mail-art’ texts, the ‘ secret thoughts about mail-art’ series, and even a copy of this newsletter. Also information about the IUOMA, texts from other mail-artists and links to several other sites connected to mail-art.

Over the years lots of interviews are published. In previous newsletters you can find the overviews of the publications. In 1995 I used to do two different versions. One was just the plain text, and a special edition was made including illustrations. For these illustrations I used the artefacts that I gathered during the interview-process. This might include enveloped, copies of FAX-messages, e-mails, etc.
What happened after these first interviews is that people suggested that I should interview myself. A silly proposal in my eyes, as if I would know which questions to ask myself. I then told the ones who asked such a question to start an interview on their own which I would include in the series. As you can see in the next year those interviews came out as well.
The interview with Ray Johnson is a story on its own. I never expected that he would reply to my mail, but strange enough he instantly replied to the first question. Typical Ray, but he answered in his own unique way. On the invitation there is the text that one could answer in any length one would like. Ray wrote on the invitation the length of the diagonal of the A4 paper I sent to him and asked for the next question. Sadly enough the third question I sent to Ray never got answered. On January 13th he committed suicide in New York.
For the year 1998 some more interviews are already scheduled. Although some of the booklets of 1997 still have to be published, the process of finishing the interviews is sometimes not in my hands. The simultaneous aspect of the interviews causes that. One of the interviews that ended was with Edgardo Antonio Vigo. I sent him the ‘traditional’ last question in which I ask if there is nothing I forget to ask. A way to give the interviewed artist a chance to say whatever he wants. In Edgardo’s case, the answer never came because he died end of 1997. Another sad detail is that the interview I did with Dick Higgins (USA) was one of his last ones. He died last November 1998 in Canada. Also Norman Solomon died before I was able to conclude the interview. It seems he was seriously ill and his wife informed me after his death that Norman explained her he wished the interview would be published anyway.

A careful reader will notice that there is again an interview published with John Held Jr. The reason for that is quite simple. The first part of his interview was done while he was in Dallas. The last mail he sent from there was for the interview, and he moved to San Francisco. I even met him there, where he was working for the Stamp Art Gallery together with Bill Gaglione (the Gallery stopped to exist end of 1997…!) And the second part of the interview explains what happened in San Francisco. Also the interview with Litsa Spathi will be published in parts. The first one is textual (and in German language). The second part will be a visual one (as an experiment I will try to publish the visual part on the Internet as well).
At the moment I am far behind with the printing of the interview-booklets. Some interviews are finished and already published on the Internet, but the booklets still have to be printed. Also some interviews are waiting to be continued. After 3 years of this intensive work I am taking a break. Soon I hope to continue with this work, and already some interviews are started again. The name of the people whose interview is now in progress is still not published. I send out these papers in which people can suggest others to be interviewed. This on its own is a project too. Some mail artists suggest themselves, while others make good suggestions and mention a reason as well. I plan to publish these papers as well, but there is only that much a single person can do.

Lots of ideas for the future, but I will see what is possible. It is always a matter of time, money, and possibilities. But I will give you an idea of the plans:
First plan is to publish a book with most of the interviews. Problem is to find a publisher. Since the first priority was to get the interviews read by others, the texts are already published on the Internet, so the final book has not first priority. The whole process of the interviews has produced a lot of artefacts also, and that would make a nice documentation.
Second plan is to exhibit the complete artefacts the mail interviews brought to me. All the mail, letters, envelopes, enclosures to the answers, it is enough to fill a museum. Guy Bleus already exhibited the booklets end of 1997. All booklets that got published in 1996 and 1997 were exhibited at his E-mail art space in Hasselt. Maybe when the complete project is finished I could interest the Postal Museums for this. They are faced with the changing world of communication as well, and most Postal Museums have shown interest in mail art the last years. They might even help in getting this first plan realised. Through my internet-site I already got an invitation from the Queens Library Gallery in New York to send in some work for their upcoming exhibition about “Fluxus, Mail-Art and Net.works”. No surprises since all three aspects come out clearly in my project. The recently purchased book “Fluxus Codex” (by Hendricks, published by Abrams, easy to order through Amazon.com electronic bookshop), shows clearly how Fluxus and Mail-Art are connected. Also I did interview some Fluxus-Artists, and some interviews that are in progress have some nice and funny connections.
Third plan is to translate the interviews into other languages. Some are already available in Spanish (online and hardcopy by P.O.Box in Barcelona), and soon they might be available in Italian and Russian too (I have given permission to translate and publish some interviews in that language). There are also interviews in progress in the German language, and who knows I might find time to translate some of them into Dutch. The first interview in German that got finished was with Litsa Spathi from Heidelberg (Germany), and three more interviews are in progress in this language. As a Dutchman I learned three foreign languages at school, so I know the language quite well, an advantage) But for the time being I will have to find time first to continue the time-costing process of doing the interviews. The mail-artists that sometimes write me don’t understand the work that is involved in the process of one interview. The retyping of all the texts, the cost of the mail , the time it takes to understand the way the interview is going and to see to it that the interview shows what the hell mail art is all about. Last problem is always to get the finished interview ready to be read by others. Correcting the text, and getting it published (on the WWW and the booklets).
As told before, at the moment I have taken a break with the interviews. Because of some changes in my life (like a new job and new interests in art) I have stopped the process for a while. It is my aim to continue and complete the project. To publish the last set of interviews that are underway. People who subscribed to the interviews and already have sent in money don’t have to worry. They will get their copies eventually, or will get their money back. If someone wants to subscribe to the future-issues, that is possible as well. But I am not doing this project to earn money, nor is anyone doing mail-art to get rich….
Please copy and publish this text if you want. I only will send out a limited number of copies into the mail art network.
Ruud Janssen – TAM

APPENDIX-1

(Overview some historical dates – published in 2001)
October 1994: Start of the mail-interview project

1995: The first hard-copy versions of the interviews hit the network and the possibility of subscriptions.
June 1996: The first texts are put on the internet. With the help of Jas W. Felter (Canada) a virtual library is built at his site. On my own site more background information about my many activities are accessible and links to other mail art related information are made.
October 1996: Meeting with several people I am interviewing / have interviewed, in California , USA , while I was there for the exhibition of the TAM Rubber Stamp Archive at the Stamp Art Gallery
December 1997: Exhibition of the Mail-Interview project and some of my mail-art at the Cultural Center in Hasselt, Belgium , organized by Guy Bleus.

1998: A break in the process of the interviews because of other activities & change of job. The Sticker Dude (USA) publishes interviews in a professional way (Guy Bleus & Tim Mancusi) , And P.O. Box (Spain) published Spanish translations of Interviews with Clemente Padin and Edgardo Antonio Vigo. Also the first interview in German language appears (Litsa Spathi)
1999: The mail-interview project is part of an exhibition in New York (USA) at the Queens Library Gallery called: “Fluxus, Mail-Art and Net.works” (January/March 1999). First visual interview is published on the Internet.
2000: Interviews that got finished in 2000 or later are only published on the internet. No booklets are published yet.
2001: To end up the mail-interview project all unfinished interviews are gradually being published on the Internet. Preperation of a book with these last sets of interviews and a selection of previously published interviews is researched.

Dec 2001: All unfinished interviews are published at www.iuoma.org and this newsletter is published.

APPENDIX-2
(Overview of Archives the interviews are available in)
1. Sackner Archives – Florida – USA.
2. Museum of Modern Art Library – New York – USA.
3. TAM-Archive – Breda – Netherlands.
4. Modern Realism Archive – San Francisco – USA.
5. HeMi-Archive – Frankfurt/Main – Germany.
6. Administration Centre – Wellen – Belgium.
7. Perneczky Archive – Köln – Germany.
8. Spillkammeret Collection – Denmark.
9. Artpool Research Center – Hungary.
10. EON – Archive – Via Reggio – Italy.
11. The Museum Of Communication – Bern – Switserland.
12. Nobody Press Collection – Heidelberg – Germany.
13. JCM – The Museum Library – Canada.
14. Signal Review Archive – Beograd – Yugoslavia.
15. National Centre For Contemporary Art – Kalingrad – Russia.
16. Staatliches Museum Schwerin – Schwerin – Germany.
17. Museum für Post und Kommunication – Berlin – Germany.
18. Banana Mail-Art Archive – Sechelt – Canada.
19. Clemente Padin Archive – Montevideo – Uruguay.
20. Eternal Network Archive (Chuck Wlesh) – Hanover – USA.
21. R.A.T. Mail-Art Archive – Liege – Belgium.
22. Günther Ruch’s Archive – Genèva – Switserland.
23. VEC Archive – Maastricht – Netherlands.
24. Documenta Archive – Kassel – Germany.

NB. Not every archive has the complete collection, but the mentioned sources have mostly about 20 or more interviews in their collection. The JCM – Collection has them in digital form online.